This is an interesting and rather hefty book with street photographs by Kineo Kuwabara. One of the ever-returning realisations about photos about Japan is, that often you simply cannot tell the day and age that the photos were taken in. So even though the photos are in roughly chronological order, the reader is sometimes challenged to guess – until you read the caption (and the image on the left is also not one of them, of course). Another very prominent aspect in the photos is the heavy feature of written text, of shops, posters, signs. This is rather appealing, equivalent to looking at unknown products in a Japanese supermarket, attractive even if the meaning of the text is not completely comprehended by a non-Japanese speaker.
A surprising, if not somehow disappointing omission are photographs from the period of WW2. I can only think that either the photographer was in the military as well and had no opportunity to take pictures, or photographic materials became too scarce to continue taking photos. In the middle of the book there is a section of Kuwabara’s colour photographs, while the rest is in black and white. The colour work seems a little haphazard, however. Coming to the 1970s, Tokyo is more and more becoming the town we know today, while up to the 1960s some views of the town seem rather shabby, and still we see some traces of that nowadays.
My only gripe with many of the photos is that too often they seem to display a little too much timidness of the photographer. We see many backs of people or people in the distance, sometimes both. Formally speaking there seems rather little personal visual language in the photos, although I may be applying a value system of the year 2004 with this statement. Kuwabara was after all an amateur as a photographer (if that means anything, apart from only taking pictures for himself), even though a photo editor by profession. The images are however getting a large lift by their documentary value, by showing things as they used to be. Whether that’s enough is for the reader to decide. For me this is probably a “borrow” book, not a “buy”, although there is enough material in the book to encourage the occasional browse if you own it, and I admit I find myself drawn to it in a nice way. Alternative review here.